Like Jolie, Austin woman opted for double mastectomy


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist John Fisher

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on May 14, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 14 at 6:04 PM

AUSTIN -- Four years ago one Austin woman took the very same preventive measures as actress Angelina Jolie.

Fourteen years ago, Tiffany Barber watched her mother undergo treatment for early stage breast cancer. Her mom survived. Tiffany's sister diagnosed with the same disease several years later, did not. She was just 38 when she died.

"During her fight when I finished having both of my kids, she said, 'I want your breasts off,'" said Tiffany. "I need to know that you are safe to be there for both of our kids."

So even though tests showed she had no genetic markers indicating cancer, Tiffany decided to have a double mastectomy.

"I had friends who said, 'Why? Why would you do that?' But until you've walked in the shoes of a family member or a close friend, someone that you love, I don't know that anybody could understand that," said Tiffany.
For patients like actress Angelina Jolie, prevention is the key. Even though she had not developed cancer, Jolie did test positive for for the genetic marker BRCA 1.

"Normally they (the genetic markers) help insure stability in the cells," said Rob Watson, M.D., a surgeon and the director for the Scott & White High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic in Round Rock. "But when they mutate, they actually help promote tumor growth, so they increase the patient's risk of cancer."

By removing both breasts, Jolie's doctors say her breast cancer risk has dropped from 87 percent to five percent.

"The risk never goes to zero," he said. "We don't have the ability, even with surgery, to remove all the breast cells from the body."  

Tiffany says Jolie's bold move is good news for Jolie and for other women with a family history of breast cancer.

"I was glad for her," said Tiffany. "Not because of her being high profile, but because it takes a very strong person to say, 'I am going to take preventive measures based on the information at hand.'" She's got young children that she wants to be here for the long term, which is the same reason I did. I think the fact that she's high profile gives the opportunity to bring awareness."

Dr. Watson says if a patient tests positive for the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation then commercial insurance usually will pay for the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. He says insurance companies understand that treating patients earlier can lower their risk of developing a more severe disease later, so it actually decreases the company's costs.

Click here for more information from the Scott & White High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic.

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